Idaho Pasture Pigs

Sounds neat, doesn’t it? Idaho pasture pigs or Ipps for short. They are some fancy creatures; new to the scene. Ipps were only bred into existence around 2006. They were bred from a combination of standard size pigs that you are more familiar with and KuneKune pigs, which are small, slow growing pigs that prefer to eat grass. KuneKune’s will graze like a cow and spend less time rooting and tearing up the ground due to their short, upturned snout. Their nose simply isn’t made for the hard-core rooting that standard pig breeds are wont to do.

I’ve seen Ipps for sale in the past, but not close enough to make the excursion to find some. This year, I found some close by to check out. I went to see them and was surprised by their size. They were rather close in size to standard size pigs of the same age. But a lot more colorful! Ipps can be a variety of colors, but these were black with spots of gold and white. Their hair was long and fuller than pigs I’d had in the past. They were also rather calm and content enough to eat while I stood nearby.

I left with two of them in the back of my truck full of feed. Upon arriving home, I found them nestled down together, giving me the side eye. They were nervous and tired, so I gave them one last scare and carried them to their new home. I set them gently in their shelter loaded full of shredded paper as bedding. I gave them water and food before piling straw bales in front of the door to keep them warm. Prior to turning in for the night, I checked on them one last time to find them side-by-side cuddling in the paper bedding.

Mr. Waddles and Biggie Smalls checking out their new digs.

The next morning, I found them cozy under their bedding and let them out to explore. It took them a moment to find the electric wire as they nibbled on leaves and grasses. The one lifted his head for a sniff of the wire and got startled by a strong ZAP. He screamed and the two of them took off for the safety of the shelter. Satisfied that they would stay safe and sound within their enclosure now that they had learned the terror of the electric fence, I left them with some pumpkins.

While Ipps tend to be grazers, they will still root at least a little, but not enough to accomplish the necessary task of preparing the garden bed for next year’s planting. To accomplish this, two standard pigs will be brought in to run with the Ipps once the two Ipps are a bit larger so that they will be ready for the butcher together since the Ipps grow slower. The Ipps will graze the leaves while the other pigs root up the roots of the weeds, together fertilizing the garden and removing both weeds and weed seeds.

Rudolph-The Christmas Roo

After initially getting the time wrong, I complete my evening chores and then waited at the house. After another ten minutes of impatient waiting, I figure I should lock up the chickens and bring Abel inside. As I’m leaving the pasture with Abel, I see a car pull up. A family unloads and I lower my headlamp so that I don’t blind them. They greet me and come up the hill. Abel is, of course, more than delighted to leap into the arms of every last one of them, so I restrain him as they try to pet him and get licked at every extension of their arms.

Through the dark, against the headlights of the van, I see the outline of a boy holding a chicken: The rooster I’ve been waiting for, that I was texted about two days earlier. “He was just too rough with our hens. They were losing all their back feathers.” This was the explanation. Apparently there were two other roosters in the flock as well. “He’s just so gorgeous, we didn’t want to butcher him.” In the dim light of my headlamp, I could see the rooster gripped carefully and loving by the boy. He didn’t seem gorgeous, more like an average dark red rooster.

I walked the boy, his family, and the rooster to the coop and moved the block away so he could gently push the rooster into his new home. Neither the new roo nor any of his new flock mates made a peep. I closed the door behind my new roo and wished him “good night.” I explained to the family that he would be in good company here, that my top roo would make sure he wasn’t too rough. Little did I know that this would not be the issue.

The family left and I went to the house for the night. Twenty-four hours later, I receive a text from my neighbor: “There’s a rooster on my trash can. I put him down and he wandered off but I think he likes people.” I figured it must be him, but I couldn’t check since he was probably in the bushes anyway. The following morning, I didn’t see him at all. I hoped he had made it safely through the night and off to work I went. That evening, I spotted him bedded down, resting in a quite spot outside the pasture. He had made it!

As the sun gave its final glow, I watched my new roo look for a way back to the flock. Chickens know: Safety in numbers. He might like people, but he wasn’t interested in my efforts to softly call him over as I inched towards him. I did my chores, feeding the animals and checking over the herbivores. Eventually I saw him in the pasture, but still far from the coop and on the wrong side of my temporary fencing. Time to herd a chicken. I carefully walked up behind him and put pressure on him to move along the fence. It took three tries before he followed the fence rather than getting spooked and running back around to where we had started. Finally, he was on the correct side!

Next issue was to get him into the coop! At dusk, the roosters run in and out of the coop, arguing about the best roosting spots, and running of potential competition. One of the newer fellas seems to have it in his mind that he’s some sort of bouncer. He took it upon himself to guard the entrance and keep the new guy out. This tiny black roo thought he was tough! Frustrated and tired, I cornered the little black roo and picked him up. I walked around the coop and urged the newest flock member into the coop and quickly sprang behind him to toss the black roo in behind him and shut the door.

The following day, I figured it would be much of the same. I watched the poor new roo, now deemed “Rudolph,” pacing the corner looking for seeds to scrounge up. He kept to himself and didn’t crow or call to the hens. As it began to grow dark, I again watched the little black roo doing his bouncer duty. Rudolph attempted to go into the coop and was chased out twice before I could catch the bouncer. Rudolph then gingerly entered the coop and I again threw the black roo in behind him.

This beautiful roo was indeed gorgeous. He was dressed for Christmas! His feathers were a typical red and green like many roosters, shimmering and bright in the sun. But hidden while he was held by the boy were his mottled red, green, and black feathers dappled by white spots. His tail was long and beautiful even though he had lost some tail feathers in the field somehow-likely caught in the mouth of another feisty roo. Hopefully soon Rudolph will find his place in the clan and be able to play king of the manure pile like the other roosters.

Small Scale Farming Returns

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As we reach towards a new decade, less than two months away, it’s always interesting to take a look back and see where we’ve been, where we are, and maybe where we’re headed. It seems that only a few decades ago, backyard farming and gardening was common place. The government encouraged it, such as with Victory Gardens. Canning home grown produce is something great grandmothers knew all too well.

But for a moment between then and now, things were different. Food started to be grown in such wholesale quantities, becoming incredibly cheap, so backyard gardens slowed down. Small scale farmers became large scale farmers or sold their farm to developers. Grocery stores and warehouse-type stores sprang into existence. Fast food establishments slammed onto corners beside convenience stores full of plastic-coated snacks.

It was as if, for a moment, everything was so easy, there was no need for a garden. This wasn’t a permanent change though. People have started to come back around. As recalls and food-borne illness outbreaks occurred more and more, trust dropped lower and lower. America is returning to the small, local farmer and producer for their food. People want to visit their farmer, pet the animals, chat with the grower of their food.

You now see bumper stickers claiming “No farms, no food” and people calling out “Know your farmer!” You can see how the climate has changed just by taking a look at the hilarious t-shirts that are popping up all over the place. From people growing herbs in pots on their front porch and backyard chicken flocks gracing the neighborhood to 10 acre farms with vegetables and a variety of animals, farming is shrinking again.

More and more people are turning to local producers of healthy meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables. It’s a lot more comforting knowing who is growing your food and how they are growing it. The news spews constant fear of large scale producers and the outbreaks of illness and while this doesn’t mean that any farmer with 500 acres are to blame, it’s a little more difficult to know which farmer grew your California strawberry when you’re sitting on the East coast.

Getting to know your farmer is a pretty simple thing. We are pretty much all just waiting to talk to you! Okay, so it’s not that simple. We are more than likely outside yelling at a cow to stop standing on our boot so we can continue feeding them or breaking a piece of machinery at an integral moment. But we don’t mind some company to distract the cow or give us a hand fixing our machines. Come the cold, dark winter months, you’re more likely to find us wrapped up with some cocoa or coffee after chasing the teenage chickens to the coop after dark (teenagers of all species seem to like to hang out past curfew!). So, come find us! After you’ve attempted to pet every last animal and had a sheep sneak up on you only to run away once you’ve noticed, we’ll be delighted to settle in with a warm beverage and talk about why we love the land and its animals and plants so much.

And you know how much I love Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” poem, so I have to leave you with these two pieces as well.

Where’s My Heifer?!

I dumped alfalfa pellets into the bucket and added some water; sheep tend to eat too fast and choke if the pellets are dry, so I have to soak them first. By the time I walk up the hill to the pasture and dump the pellets in the bowls for them, they are all saturated and soft so no one will choke on them. I made my way up the hill, slowing down to say hello to the rabbits and then greeting the mooing and baaing flerd of hungry sheep and cattle.

I only glanced at them for a moment initially as they came towards me, awaiting their delicious snack. Confused, I looked back up and counted the hungry herbivores. Seven sheep, but only one heifer? Where the heck is my other cow? “Meh, she’ll come running in a second once she hears me.” So I filled the bowls and waited. Now I was getting a little concerned. There’s nothing more important than snacks to a cow!

I looked in their shelter. I walked around the shelter. I looked in the shelter more closely. It’s kind of hard to miss a 600 pound black heifer. I listened for her and studied the edge of the fence, looking through the greenery in case she had managed to find a way through the fence. I was growing more than a little concerned at this point. I began making quicker strides as I hurried towards the lower portion of the pasture, being careful not to stumble on the uneven ground while simultaneously searching the brush along the fence lines.

Suddenly, my eyes caught a line of black on the ground further down the hill. I stopped, but only momentarily, as I processed what I was seeing. I heard myself say “No!” as I thought “She’s dead.” I sprinted towards her, my keys jingling on my belt. The sound brought her round and she began thrashing as I ran towards her. I breathed again as I saw her move and ran faster. Once I neared her, I slowed down in an effort to not scare her.

Apparently, she had stumbled and slipped at a giant groundhog hole. The hole was in enough of a depression that when she had fallen, her back was downhill. In this position, she was cast and no amount of thrashing would get her back up again. It seemed she had struggled so much she had even pooped herself and who knew how long she had been laying like this! She stopped thrashing and panted heavily. I got down against her back hoping she still had the energy to try to get up. I pushed and she worked to throw her legs under her rotund self.

With a heave from me and a throw of her head, she found her footing and got herself righted. She appeared woozy and only walked a few steps at a time, but we walked back until her sister saw her coming up the hill. Her sister came to greet us and began gently mooing as she came over. I walked ahead, hoping to encourage them and get my unsteady cow to come drink or eat. Thankfully it was a cool and overcast day. I’m not sure how long a black cow could have lasted in any sort of heat in that position.

The two cows ambled slowly back to the group and I went to fill up their hay feeder. When I returned, the sister was cleaning up the muddy, cast cow. I came back to them and took her head in my heads, petting her dewlap and her neck. She had mud across her forehead and still had some foam around her mouth. But once she saw the hay, she and her sister trotted right to the feeder, no longer looking as though she had accepted that death had been right around the bend.

Why Should You Eat Lamb?

Lamb meat sometimes has a reputation for being “smelly” or just being “gross.” Unfortunately, what may have been labeled as “lamb” might really have been “mutton.” The difference is only in age. Lamb is categorized as a sheep under one year old. Mutton comes from any sheep over that limit. There’s some leeway there, but that’s the general rule of thumb. Older sheep, like any animal, tend to have more flavorful meat. The body accumulates a number of compounds, minerals, and micronutrients in the muscle and fat. These leads to a more robust flavor, whether that’s good or bad is usually down to preference.

Lamb meat is mild in its flavoring. It has a very similar taste and texture to that of beef, but there is a richness to lamb meat that beef just doesn’t have. Grass fed lamb isn’t just a delicious Sunday dinner. There are also many environmental and health considerations that make lamb a worthwhile purchase. There are benefits to eating lamb that other meats aren’t able to always match.

Lamb is considered a “complete protein” and contains all nine of the essential amino acids along with CLA in higher quantities than you would find in beef. CLA is considered to have many health benefits. In lamb, you will also find high quantities of vitamins and minerals such as B12, Zinc, Iron, and bioactive nutrients and antioxidants. Some of these include creatine, taurine, and glutathione. These are good for heart and muscle health. Overall, lamb packs a lot into a small space, providing an easily-digested protein that contains more beneficial nutrients than many other meats or vegetable proteins.

Environmentally speaking, lamb meat is a positive choice for regenerating the soil and improving pasture. More farmers are turning to sheep as a method for reducing parasite loads in both cattle and sheep, increasing variety in pastures, and improving soil health. Most sheep are raised on grass and do well even with poor-quality forages. Katahdins, with their goat-like qualities, also make do with browsing on low-hanging tree branches and chomping down on bramble leaves. While not as effective as goats, sheep can help to clear pastures of unwanted plants.

The split hooves of sheep also loosen soil and allow pasture seeds to gain a strong connection to soil and water, allowing thicker swards and a thicker sward means more CO2 absorption. Their manure is formed into small pellets that absorb into the ground slowly and don’t smother grasses. Running sheep and cattle together, either in the same paddock or one trailing after the other, reduces parasites since most parasites are species-specific and provides a more evenly grazed pasture since sheep and cattle prefer different plants.

In some places, sheep have their tails docked or their skin “crutched” on their rear to prevent flies from laying eggs in poo stuck to their wool. Katahdins, who have no wool, only hair, do not require tail docking. Crutching, now considered a cruel practice, is never done on the WPP farm. Male lambs are castrated humanely within two weeks of their birth so they have minimal discomfort. In addition to being a healthy protein source and a positive environmental support, you don’t have to worry about whether the lamb you buy is treated ethically and humanely when you buy from Wise Produce and Proteins.

Growing Peas on the Kitchen Table

In January of 2018, I responded to a craigslist ad that listed about 60 mason jars and about 200 seed packs for only $60. I knew this was a steal and jumped at the chance. Even without the seeds, the mason jars themselves would have had me out the door at the same speed! I was a little disheartened to find that the seeds were dated for for 2010, 2011, and 2012. Most seeds aren’t viable past 5 years, depending on the vegetable.

But these seeds were sealed in plastic and were organic heirloom varieties, so I had some hope that maybe they might be okay if they were kept in the right conditions all that time. I still wasn’t feeling too positive about them though and wasn’t about to set any sort of high expectations. I figured I might get some to germinate, but after checking the viability of various vegetable seeds, I was uncertain that some would come through at all.

I was eager for spring. January was icy and ugly and I was getting tired of it. So I got some plastic pans out and threw all of the snow peas into the potting soil and set them on the kitchen table. I watered them carefully and checked them daily. After a few weeks, I was shocked. Some little green leaves were working their way out of the soil. The best was yet to come. By the end of the week, I was pretty darn sure that every last seed had germinated.

I was giddy at first. Then I began to realize that I had about 500 pea shoots growing on my kitchen table and it was only February!!! I held off as long as I could, but you can only wait so long before things start to get a bit jungle-like. So I set about making a suitable place for my little snow pea shoots. It was warm enough outside to turn the soil, but I still had to scrape heavy chunks of snowy ice off my garden plot. I put down some fine compost on the turned sod. I didn’t really have the time to be making this into anything spectacular; the peas appeared to be growing at the rate of an inch per day! I swear it seemed like that, anyway!

I brought my peas to the farm in their two plastic flats. At first, I carefully plucked them from the flat and gingerly patted the dirt over their roots. As I looked down the row and saw ever limited space, I began to grab at chunks of soil-containing-peas and slapped them into the row. I was less considerate as I went, realizing just how many peas I had unwittingly grown in the kitchen.

Those may have been some of the most forgiving peas I’ve ever grown. They didn’t do much growing when I first threw them out into the cold. There they sat, waiting for the sun. I put up their support poles and string and they waited. Finally, March 15 rolled around (official estimated spring planting day for this area). The peas also know this as the date they can start growing. So off to the races they went! I had a glorious crop of snow peas that spring. They produced far into the summer and gave me all that they could. It really didn’t seem to matter that I had grown them in the kitchen or thrown them into cold, wet ground. They grew just the same regardless, just as every other year.

Seriously though, just imagine me out in the snow and ice, scraping at the ground to find grass and ground so I can plant peas, in the winter. Yes, I am a crazy farmer. You just don’t know if it will work sometimes, which means you need to do some trial and error. If that makes me crazy, I’m all for it. I’ll try some crazy things and sometimes they truly work out. Other times, it’s a dud. That’s okay though. That’s just the same as a scientist, isn’t it??

How They’re Raised-Sheep

If you haven’t read the beginnings of how I ended up with sheep, first go read that story!

I chose hair sheep after long and careful consideration. Being a small farmer, starting with a single ewe and her lambs, it would not have been easy to deal with the yearly or biyearly shearing of a few sheep. Nor would it have been cost efficient. Shearing a trio of sheep could cost $30 and the wool could end up being worth nothing if it wasn’t cared for appropriately while the sheep was wearing it! I knew I wasn’t ready for that, so I found the breed “Katahdin.”

These lovely hair sheep lose their coat every spring. During the summer, their coat is coarse and short to repel rain and keep them cool. In the winter, the grow in a soft, woolly coat up to three inches thick. Like wool sheep, this coat of hair repels moisture through an oil known as “lanolin.” This oil keeps the rain and snow from wetting them down too much, helping to keep them warm. The three inch deep hair then insulates them so well that snow doesn’t even melt off their backs!

Katahdin sheep are easy keepers: They eat grass and a few handfuls of grain and give you beautiful lambs in the spring with nary a single cry other than to ask “Where’s my snack?!” It’s a pretty darn exciting thing to walk up to the pasture on a cold February morning, still dark, with snow covering them ground to find your ewes lambing, unassisted, and cleaning off their newborns with their only worry being to dry off that little lamb and get it standing and eating. They are incredible creatures and wonderfully instinctive.

I provide my sheep with a shelter from the elements, but they aren’t often inclined to bother with it. On hot days, the sheep find a breezy, shady spot to pant for the afternoon. On raining days, they’ll be out eating grass in the pasture. When it’s snowing, they’ll be laying out there chewing their cud, entirely not bothered. Just about the only time they mind the weather is when the wind starts howling on the colder or wetter days. Then they’ll gratefully use the shelter.

They have full run of the pasture right now, but this winter, they will be confined to the front section to help the pasture heal. Once the grass starts growing, I’ll begin rotating them through the pasture, paddock by paddock. Rotating them around the pasture rather than giving them free reign to the entire area encourages them to eat more than just the “candy grass” and makes them eat a more rounded meal. Some grasses taste better than others, but has more sugar, while others have more nutrients and taste less delectable, so the sheep skip that on the first pass if they have access to the whole pasture.

In September, I take off the ram’s silly apron that prevents accidental lambs, and let him get down to business. In the past, Sam would have completed his duties in a few days and in February, I’d have lambs all on the ground in a week or two. This year, Cork is in charge. Being a young fella, we will see how he does with completely his duties. Hopefully, the lambs won’t be born too far into the spring, but again, Katahdins are good at what they do, so I don’t think there will be much of a problem.

During the months the ewes are in milk with their lambs, I feed alfalfa pellets to give them the necessary protein they need to stay in good condition while caring for the hungry babies. Once the lambs are gone or grown and the cold sets in, out comes the real good stuff, the grain! Sheep go crazy for grain! They will trip over each other to get to the grain bucket and potentially take out the food-lady to get their share! The sheep get a few cups of grain per day to help them stay warm through the cold winter nights and give them the extra calories through the duration of their pregnancy.

Once the lambs are born, I give them a few weeks to build up their strength before I manhandle them too much. But once they are found strong and healthy, the boys go from being rams, to being “wethers,” meaning they don’t get to keep their testicles, which lead to meat having quite a bit of flavor. The lambs grow to about 9 months old, and the ewe lambs are kept behind with their mothers and the wethers head to the butcher. Sheep are considered “lambs” until they are one year old. So when you see “lamb” for sale at the store, it’s not a little baby they slaughtered, it’s a sheep who is often 75% full grown, but just under a year.

The sheep on the farm here at WPP get to stay with their mothers until the day they go to the butcher. I allow the ewes to decide when to wean their lambs. For the most part, the ewes get tired of being thrown around when their nearly full grown lambs head butt their udders in an instinctual effort to encourage more milk production. I’ve seen ewes with their back legs up off the ground from getting head butted so hard! The mothers then usually call it a day and stomp off!

While I still might see 9 month old lambs nursing from time to time, it becomes pretty infrequent by that point. Other producers may only let their lambs nurse up to 3 months, sometimes 4 months before they separate the lambs from the ewes. I find Katahdins don’t need the separation and it’s hard to see them go through that process unnecessarily, so I don’t do it. These sheep might lose some condition and be a bit bony by the middle of summer, but they gain it all back before winter so they stay nice and warm with some fat covering.

So there you have it, raising sheep in a nut shell. There’s always so much more to sheep than meets the eye! My sheep are shy at first, but they know a bucket of grain when they see one and will run to even a stranger, though wary at first. My sheep truly know my voice and come when I call out “come on sheep!” They are eager to be near me and see what treat I may have brought them. It’s such a calming experience to spend time with the sheep. They come to nuzzle me and get a gentle scratch behind the ears or under the chin. The best moments are when Cindy, my matriarch ewe, sways back and forth as I scratch her back. Even sheep love a nice back massage!

So God Made a Farmer

Every year presents with its own unique challenges, struggles, and rewards. Every year, I find some new adventure, some new hardship, some new sorrow. One of the things that didn’t necessarily draw me to farming, but continues to make me glad to carry the label “Farmer,” is that no day is like the last. I cannot say that any two days that I’ve been a farmer have been the same, at all. Sure, I feed the animals, tend the vegetables, collect the eggs. It sounds pretty much the same, doesn’t it?

It’s not the same at all. Even from year to year, things are always different. The weather challenges me. The critters, whether livestock or insect, challenge me. The soil itself challenges me! Everything is a challenge; a learning experience; a chance for growth. Digging potatoes this year was different than every other year. Seeing the difference in fertility that the pigs brought to the ground was extremely evident in the potatoes this year. You could have guessed where they spent most of their time by the size of the potatoes alone!

I had a lot of challenges this year, but I also consider this one of my best seasons yet. This season marked ten seasons since I came home with chickens and the farming woman inside of me suddenly came to life. It’s taken ten long seasons to get to this amazing point in my farming life. For the first time, no hogs crossed their fence. For the first time, I didn’t lose a single broiler to predation or heat. For the first time, my calves are growing exactly as they should be and doing amazingly well. For the first time, the pigs loaded themselves into the trailer on butcher day.

That’s not to say that nothing went wrong this year. I’ve had my share of bad days and more colorful words probably left my mouth than intended. If you’re a mover and shaker, if you’re getting out there and getting it done, things will absolutely go wrong. My grandfather made a statement about an employee of his who always broke things and why he never fired the employee: “He’s the only one doing anything!” So, lots went wrong this year, like every year, and while I never want it to be that way, it’s okay. Really, it’s okay.

I had problems with my chicken plucker. I had two separate cherry trees fall on my fence this year. That alone was bad enough, but to make it worse, wilted cherry leaves are toxic and they were suddenly in reach of my whole flerd of cattle and sheep. Thankfully, I got there in time before they wilted and everyone was safe! My cows escaped at least three times, maybe four…I start to lose track after a while. Due to electric issues, my turkey poults and half of my baby pullets (laying hens) died on a cold spring night when their heat lamp lost power. I had to say goodbye to my ram, Sam, when he continued his aggression to the point of causing me serious concern for my well-being.

Sometimes, the bad days in farming are enough to knock you to the ground. The bad days are enough to lay you out and you find yourself ripping grass out of the ground in total frustration. I’ve sat, tears welling up in my eyes, knowing there was nothing I could have done at the time with the information that I had and slicing every last piece of wisdom and knowledge out of those bad days. Some days, it’s a sigh and a mutter of “What a way to start the day” as I head up the hill with a bucket of grain to lure two ornery calves back to the pasture.

Every step in the wrong direction, every “failure,” every mistake that made me fuming mad or agonizingly sad, and every success that made me glad to wear the label “farmer,” these were all times that I gained something, earned something, learned something. No moment in my farming history has been without a lesson, most often with a test at the beginning! No, the class never starts with a lesson, always a test first! Sometimes I’ll get a passing grade; but the lessons that teach me the most usually start with a failed test.

I have learned how to herd chickens, coax the wary calf back through the gate, run from a hog to get it where I wanted it, and how to sit down a sheep. I’ve learned how to have patience with creatures that don’t speak my language, to speak with my body language rather than my words, how to ask for help, and to manage my emotions despite the circumstance. I’ve gained knowledge, empathy, patience, and strength. I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, and sighed.

At this point, ten years in, I can easily say that I would not trade farming for all the salt in Utah, all the tea in China, or all the gold in Fort Knox. It isn’t just a trade, a job, or a hobby. It’s part of who I am, what I love. And I seek to share the good, the bad, and the awesome of my day to day because farming is an incredible journey. It wouldn’t be right to keep the crazy stories, the unbelievable tales, or the sad experiences to myself.

So now I leave you with Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer.” It never fails to move me and I hope you feel as I do.

Symbiosis on the Farm

If you have been following WPP on instagram, you may have noticed a recent picture of a chicken standing on my heifer, Black Licorice. I titled it “Symbiosis in the Barnyard.” Symbiotic relationships are incredibly important on the farm. In order to keep animals healthy and ensure that their environment mimics what life would be like for them if they lived on the open range in the wild, symbiosis is an absolute necessity.

You have probably seen nature documentaries of animals such as water buffalo with wild birds perched on their backs or buzzards hopping around a pack of lions chowing down on their prey. Birds of all kinds are crucial to success of the ecosystem whether they are cleaning up after herbivores like cattle or sheep or carnivores like lions and tigers.

Chickens, in this case, serve in their vital role in a couple of ways. The cattle are not only tolerant of the chickens, but are practically blind to the chickens! This has upsides and some serious downsides. The simple downside: Chickens are mighty prone to getting stepped on by the blundering giants who have no clue that stomping on chickens is not going to go well for the chicken. Thankfully, chickens are pretty quick to hop out of the way in most cases. The positives of this awesome relationship are numerous though!

Chickens aren’t vegetarians. Did you know that?! They are serious omnivores and eat a huge variety of foods. Chickens nimbly peck at seed heads on the pasture plants but also scratch around for insects. The most fun to watch is a a chicken carefully snatching gnats out of the air! When chickens snag a bug too big to swallow in a single bite, they will essentially play “keep away” with one another as they try to find a safe space to break apart the bug and much down their prize. But how does this apply to sheep and cattle?!

Well, herbivores make a lot of poo. Fibrous grasses and legumes are digested quite efficiently by these animals, but it still makes for lots of raw fertilizer. What likes poo too? Flies. Flies are quick to lay eggs in cow patties. Dung beetles also get to work on breaking down the excrement. Chickens have an innate understanding of this and go searching for the little critters that have found their way into the piles. Chickens scratch apart the piles of poo in search of any bugs they can eat. Sure, it sounds gross, but this is what chickens were designed to do.

In addition to eating the fly larva and other bugs, the act of scratching the patties up means that the grass it has smothered can see the light of day again and allows the ground to more easily absorb the nutrients from the poo. It leads to a healthier pasture and fewer insects that will bother the sheep and cattle. Chickens will not just eat insects from the poo, but also eat them off the backs of the sheep and cattle and generally help keep them away.

Even the sheep are known to allow some back scratching from some brave chickens from time to time! During the winter, the sheep have thick, warm coats that insulate them so well that snow generally doesn’t even melt and freezing rain will form ice on their backs. The chickens are keen to lend a helping hand by pecking the ice chunks off the backs of the sheep for some water and even scratch snow off the sheep. Now, while the sheep don’t need this, it certainly seems that they don’t mind. I think they might even enjoy a nice chicken back scratch!

On a farm that allows symbiotic relationships, everyone benefits! The chickens get easy, healthy food and gain some extra daytime protection from hawks who are less inclined to snag a chicken with such large body guards. The herbivores deal with fewer insects and less stinky poo. Even the pasture benefits by being able to absorb the nutrients more efficiently! It’s a good life when they can all enjoy it together!

2019/2020 Winter CSA

It’s almost that time, when vegetables are scarce, but meat is still in full supply; when comfort food is craved and soups are on the stove. The summer may be over, but your CSA doesn’t have to end here. You can still get the delicious, healthy, grass-fed meats and eggs your body needs all winter long. So here’s the scoop on the winter CSA.

Since all meats are already frozen and getting up on a cold Saturday and heading out the door isn’t exactly the most enjoyable part of winter, deliveries will occur every 4 weeks November through May. That way you can spend more Saturdays sleeping in and dreaming about soups and roasts, and bacon and eggs.

Like the summer CSA, there will be some options for the winter CSA as well. You can include meats as well as eggs or just the meat. You can choose from pork, chicken, lamb, and rabbit. Every month you will get a variety of meats and some items to make some excellent and nutritious broth such as soup bones or chicken torsos. You will also get a pork roast or whole chicken.

Here’s what a winter CSA drop might look like for one month:
1 Whole chicken
2 bags of drumstick or thighs
2 lb of bacon
2 packs of sausage
2 Chicken torsos

Another month might look like this:
1 Pork roast
4 Chicken breasts
2 Packs of pork chops
1 Bag of beef bones
1 Pack of lamb chops

Every delivery will be different so you don’t have to worry about getting bored or making the same things constantly. As you can see, from one month to the next, no two items are the same. If you are interested in getting eggs as well, you can choose from 2 or 4 dozen. If a single share just isn’t enough, you can double it and save even more money!

A single meat share for the winter is $300 and you’ll have 7 total deliveries through the winter. A double share is $575. To add eggs to your share, it is an additional total of $35 for 2 dozen in each drop or $65 for 4 dozen in each drop. So a single meat share with 2 dozen eggs per month would be a total cost of $335. Or a double share with 4 dozen eggs per month would cost $640.

Buying all these meats and eggs individually for a single share with 2 dozen eggs would cost over $375. That’s a saving of at least $40. When it comes to meat this good and this good FOR you, you aren’t going to want to miss out! As always, recipes will be included so you can try out some new things and maybe learn to make your own broth too if that’s not something you’ve done before!

  • Small Meat Share…………………….$300
  • Small Meat Share W/ 2 Eggs……$335
  • Small Meat Share W/ 4 Eggs……$365
  • Large Meat Share…………………….$575
  • Large Meat Share W/ 2 Eggs……$610
  • Large Meat Share W/ 4 Eggs……$640